CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates gave overwhelming approval to the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019 in a Monday floor session vote.
House Bill 2005 was approved 97-1 and sent to the state Senate for consideration.
“Broadband development and expansion is absolutely critical for West Virginia to take full advantage of the 21st-century economy,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said in a news release after the vote. “Just like the interstate highway system unleashed commerce in the 20th century, broadband and high-speed wireless technologies now have the ability to unleash our state’s potential and connect West Virginians to the world like never before.”
Hanshaw said the bill is a good companion piece of legislation that builds on broadband bills from 2017 and 2018.
The House did reject a proposed amendment from Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, that called into question the part of the bill that allows new cell towers to be taxed at the salvage rate for a short period of time to encourage investment. She said the state Constitution declares that taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, spoke against the proposed amendment.
“It’s a modest approach, five years, and then it reverts to the regular evaluation the county would get,” Shott said. “It’s important to know we aren’t talking about the counties losing anything. They aren’t losing anything because these towers don’t exist and may never exist without some incentive to build them.”
The salvage rate part of the bill is called the “Wireless Technology Business Property Valuation Act.”
The bill’s other provisions include:
–“Make-Ready Pole Access” provisions to require electric utilities to study whether it would be feasible to provide broadband service technologies on their existing distribution and transmission infrastructure. This activity would be overseen by the state Public Service Commission.
–establishes the “West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act,” which will allow broadband providers to use existing rights-of-way and utility poles to place next generation wireless and broadband technologies. This will make it easier for them to use existing infrastructure to deploy technologies, dramatically reducing capital costs.
Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said it’s time to get reliable broadband to the state’s unserved and underserved areas.
“I’ve heard a figure that 80 percent of West Virginia is covered. Well maybe 80 percent of the population but not 80 percent of the land area,” Boggs said.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said private companies are watching the legislation move through the process.
“This bill will unleash investment and the entrepreneurial spirit of our people,” Linville said in a House news release. “That will translate into jobs, opportunity and a better quality of life for everyone who lives and does business in our state.”
Fleischauer and Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raliegh, were the only delegates to vote against the bill.
The bill will be reported to the Senate Tuesday and likely assigned to a pair of committees for consideration.